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Finding Life Mentors in Mentor Text

Atypical on Netflix

The post below is another blast from the past, and it's been on my mind lately. As my honey and I have been setting up our home for the next chapter, we sink exhausted into the couch each evening and have been binging on "Atypical" on Netflix. As we watch, we often pause the show and discuss. (We do this with most shows we watch - he's been married to a teacher for too long!) We ask each other if we can identify at all with each of the unique characters in this brilliant portrayal of a neurotypical family living with a family member who is on the Autism Spectrum. 

Our favorite character is Sam, who is the family member on the Spectrum. I have always had students who were on the spectrum mainstreamed in my classroom. This was not because I had specialized training, but because I had the heart to connect with every student. Making a personal connection has always been job one for me. Sam is a life mentor for me as I watch "Atypical". As someone with an over the top reeling imagination, I love the clearly black/white manner in which Sam views the world. He reminds me to slow down and realize that different people react to the very same situations in very different ways. 

Watching "Atypical" each evening has also reminded me of the many forms that Mentor Text can take. Characters in TV shows and in movies, even in songs, can all be life mentors for us in so many ways. I hope you will enjoy reading the post below, and will find something useful to take back to your own classroom this year! 

Here it is:
I've been thinking a lot about mentor text lately. Mentor Text. Another piece of education-speak. Sounds official, important, and perhaps a bit daunting for a new teacher or a seasoned one like me, who may not have attended a training or researched  the term. The first time I heard the term, it sent me running to Google for a definition. I found that mentor text is a piece of literature that teachers and students can study, imitate, and apply to other texts and for different purposes.

Wait! What? So using mentor text is the same thing that I (we) have been doing for years: teaching a reading or writing strategy by using a picture book or short piece of text as a model or example. So my favorite mini-lesson practice of starting with a picture book or a passage from a favorite author is using mentor text? Yes! Got it!

As with all trends in education and in life, this idea of using mentor texts in the upper elementary classroom has me asking once again.... What if? What if, as we work through a text to determine a character's motivation and emotions, to learn more about a character, might we also learn a little more about ourselves. I think we might! Think back for a minute to some of your all-time favorite characters from your own reading and/or movie and tv viewing. What if we could apply the positive character traits and emotional intelligence that we find in character study to our own lives?

My greatest personal life mentor was my Aunt Harriet. I was born three days before her eighth birthday, a fun birthday present for a little girl. She gave me countless gifts as my guide through life as we grew up together. She was out-going, chill, fun, and loved to learn and try new things. She was beautiful and a great dancer and baton twirler, to name just a few of her talents. We went to the library together every week and she helped me to pick out books, some of which I remember to this day. I joined her many friends at her house every day after school to dance to American Bandstand, making me most likely the world's youngest teenager at the time! (I'm now probably the world's oldest one!) She continued to serve as an example to me as she raised her family and volunteered so often to help others in her community. She passed away so young, leaving me without her guidance for as many years now as the years that I was lucky to spend with her. I miss her more than I can say, and hope that some of who I am as a human can be traced to her mentoring.


Using Mentor Text in Upper Elementary

Some of my personal literary life mentors are Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (placed in my hands by Aunt Harriet), who can find joy in the smallest and most ordinary seeming things, Professor Dumbledore from (you guessed it- Harry Potter), whose famous words hung on my classroom wall from the first day that I read them ("It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."), and Professor John Keating (played by Robin Williams in "Dead Poets' Society"), who encouraged his students to find their own voice. This serendipitous mentoring that occurs when we find a richly drawn character who touches our soul is, to me, the best kind. It's the way a book or movie that you have fallen into stays with you forever. It's the reason you ask yourself at times of emotional duress what that mentoring character would do in a similar situation.


Mentor Text Discussions

There are endless opportunities in our Reader's Workshop lessons to set up a character as an emotional mentor at the same time that we are teaching specific reading and writing skills. As teachers, we have minds on, heart touched moments to explore how a character is feeling in a particular situation, and to closely watch how that character responds and gets on with life. It's something to recall over and over with your class throughout the year. Along with internalizing a character's emotions and responses, some of those strategies naturally find their way into our own emotional tool boxes.

My favorite grades to teach have always been grades 3-6. My suggestions here will be focused on reading that will most appeal to students in those grades, but all can be used in other grades as well depending on your lesson focus, reading levels in your class, and whether it will be read-aloud, partner reading, or independent. I hope this list will inspire you to make one of your own, listing life mentoring examples that might be found in some of the texts that you are already using. It can slip into your lessons and conversations as smoothly as fudge slides down the side of a sundae.

My favorite characters for a little life mentoring (no affiliate links - just making it easier for you to find these):

Quila from Gifts From The Sea (strong under pressure, nurturing, mature)
Zoe from A Crooked Kind of Perfect (flexible, looking at life with humor)
Brian from Hatchet (resourceful, innovative, strong under pressure, self-reliant)
Rob and also Sistine from The Tiger Rising (owning your feelings and dealing with bullying)
Claudia from The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (adventurous, lover of learning)
Meg (of course) from A Wrinkle in Time (persistent, brave, caring)
Rosie from Granny Torelli Makes Soup (valuing friendship, empathy)
Opal from Because of Winn-Dixie (developing understanding, nurturing friendships, learning to let
go of emotional baggage)
Comfort from Each Little Bird that Sings (dealing with the unexpected, having a positive outlook)

I could add ten or twenty more to the above list, but you get the idea. Life mentors can be found in countless books. When I've added life mentoring to our discussions of read-alouds and book club choices, I have found over and over that my students start to identify the life lessons in their own reading. They bring those discoveries to reading conferences, making that discussion even richer.

If you like the idea of adding life mentoring to your readers' workshop and would like a little more direction on how to do it, I have placed some of my favorite lessons doing just that into this year-long program for character development and behavior improvement! Hope you'll click and explore!


Lessons for Life Mentoring

For some easy to use forms to keep track of your Reader's Workshop results, check out Rainbow City Learning's Conferring Notebook! Just click here!










For more September teaching inspiration, be sure to take at look at some of the posts below. If you are a blogger and interested in joining Teacher Talk, please contact me at retta.london@gmail.com and I'll explain how to get started!



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Start Your Teacher Year Right

Start Your Teacher Year Right

This post has been featured on the TpT Blog! That was soooo exciting for me, and I hope that you may have noticed it there! The blog fairies have been here and thought that I should write a post about continuing that summer reading feeling into the new school year, but honestly... Today is a major milestone anniversary for my sweetheart and me, and we are about to embark on a new adventure tomorrow morning! I need to start packing! So, I decided to take my own advice as detailed below, and squeeze every last drop of summer pleasure into my heart and into my memories. I hope you enjoy reading this oldie but goodie post, and get a little more summer under your belt to last all year long!

Aaaaahhh....August! August is the Sunday night of a teacher's year. We are looking forward to our learning and teaching days to come, yet longing for just a little more summer. We are making plans, thinking about setting up our classrooms, and yet feeling the need to sink our toes in the sand once more, watch just one more Netflix binge, or read one more beach book. It's a feeling that I still get as a retired teacher. I feel the butterflies in my stomach, find myself wondering who is on my class list, and when I can finally get into my room to work. Those feelings never go away, even as I realize that those days are over for me.

So teachers, as we move through August together, I think I know a little of the approach-avoidance feelings you are experiencing. As memories of August past flood my brain, I hope I can offer a few ideas to make your transition back to class easier! Of course, if your district has already returned for the new school year, you probably have a tip or two to offer us already. I hope you'll share in the comments!

Steal a little more summer

Just because  the stores are shelving school supplies earlier and earlier each year, that doesn't mean that you have to spring into action and start gathering. The shelves will be restocked and more and better deals will appear as we get closer to the actual opening of school.

Don't be so anxious to get into your room. It will still be there if you choose to spend a few extra vacation days with friends and/or family. It's usually a struggle to gain access early in August if you are a Labor Day district like ours, so why not wait until the school is actually ready for you to dig in and transform your space?

For years, I stayed away from Labor Day gatherings, choosing instead to make my desk name tags, type up my revised class list for the twentieth time, and pack "Welcome to my Class" bags. Looking back, I think I could have enjoyed the Labor Day fun and still had a great first week.  Savor every last delicious moment this year and then retrieve it to recall on a long and cold winter day.


How will school be different this year?

AT HOME

Have you stressed out over what to wear to school each day? Consider spending a little August time cleaning your closet, donating items you never wear, and shopping for a "capsule wardrobe". The idea of a basic wardrobe of fewer pieces that can be mixed in multiple ways really isn't a fad. It's been around under many names since the 70's. You can trust me. I was there. I didn't heed the advice, but I heard it. Looking back, I realize how much easier my mom life and teaching life could have been with this teeny tiny change in habit. If you have a sparse closet filled with mix and match pieces that you love love love, getting dressed in the morning will be snap!

Will you miss your summer gym time? Bike rides? Long walks? Yoga class? Make a plan now on how to make exercise a part of your school day. A lifestyle modification that worked for me was to go to sleep an hour earlier than I would have liked to so that I could get up an hour earlier to work out. When my children were really young, I made this a two hour difference so I could be up in time to exercise for an hour, shower and shampoo, and be dressed and ready to leave for work before waking my girls. Decide what you would like to accomplish in the morning and work backwards to adjust your bedtime. Adjusting to an earlier bedtime is a life-changer!

Worried about having great family meals ready after working each day? The Instant Pot is a miracle machine! Dinner ready in no time at all! (Unless you choose a recipe that uses the Instant Pot as a slow cooker. I did this once - the first time I used mine. We ended up waiting 3 hours for dinner instead of 30 minutes! Hahaha! Now I check the cooking times before getting out the ingredients!) Use a lazy August evening or two gathering recipes to try in the fall.

Stressful to pack lunches in the morning? Make a plan to batch pack those meals in a quick weekend hour. Snack boxes, bags, mason jars, and bento boxes make great containers for pack ahead meals.

AT SCHOOL

Does your room have to be Instagram perfect before the students arrive? Why not ask for their ideas on furniture arrangement and groupings? Have some basic bulletin boards to set the stage for students to contribute their work. I have found over and over again that students who feel a sense of ownership  in their classroom will show much more respect for the rules, materials, and equipment.

Would you like your Meet the Teacher event to run more smoothly? Have a few activities ready for kids to complete, like an All About Me page to display for the first day of school. Have a brochure ready for parents describing your philosophy and plans for curriculum, along with contact information. Keep it as simple as possible. I loved using a trifold brochure. Try really hard not to plan a heavy room setup work day on the same day as Meet the Teacher.

Here's a bulletin board idea: Make signs with FAQ and answers and post them all around your classroom. Very helpful for parents and for students. Less for you to explain over and over as the first days roll on.


Make your teaching practice better this year.


Will you use more Project Based Learning? Would you like to try Math Centers or a Maker Space? What's your plan to build your classroom community? All of these ideas and more are soooo much easier to contemplate away from the scene of all the excitement. Do a little reading about the top item or two on your list. Subscribe to a professional journal or blog related to the topic. Join a Facebook group of like minded teachers who are going to try out the same new practice. Start small and grow your practice as you feel more comfortable.


Journal your teaching day

I can't say enough about how the simple act of writing quietly for fifteen or twenty minutes each day will bring balance and serenity to your life. It will provide insight later to what happened on a frustrating day and will provide memories that will bring a smile to your face for years to come.

When I started my journal writing at the very end of each school day, my students were wondering what I was up to. Was I writing about them? Was it good stuff? You could hear a pin drop and minds working as my sweeties got all reflective in their own journals too!


Make teaching fun

Get together with your teaching besties at lunch or at the end of the day to just laugh out loud at some of the outrageous, cute, or even challenging things that will be a part of every day. Try laughter instead of commiserating as often as you can. Humor feels much better than frustration and anger every time!

Some teaching besties and I have started getting together (from across the country by phone) each Sunday night to laugh about some of the things that have stressed us out as teachers. It's the best cure ever for the Sunday night butterflies. We have had so much fun laughing at ourselves and the overwhelming tower of things we have taken soooo seriously that we decided to start a podcast! We hope you will join us by listening and by interacting with us on our Facebook page We Teach So Hard. Because we know that you teach so hard too! I hope this teaching year is the best one ever for you!



We Teach So Hard is currently available on several platforms. As an iPhone podcast addict, I of course am THRILLED to see it on iTunes. Meanwhile, meet up with us here:




    



For more ideas as you start your new school year, please check out the fabulous bloggers of Teacher Talk! 

If you would also like to be a part of Teacher Talk, we are a group of teacher bloggers who share posts
that are heavy on the ideas with just a little selling of our educational materials at    TeachersPayTeachers.com.  For more information about joining The Best of Teacher Entrepreneurs Marketing Cooperative, go to https://bit.ly/3o7D1Dv.  Feel free to email me at retta.london@gmail.com if you have any questions. 

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Welcoming the Summer Slide

Welcoming the Summer Slide

It's an exhilarating time of the year! Testing should be over by now (Pleeeease tell me that's true for you!), classrooms are getting packed up and summerized, and we're celebrating all the learning that has happened for our students in this important piece of their childhood. Still so much to do and so much to ponder. 

I cried at the end of all but one of my classroom years. (That one year is another loooong story. I'll save that for now.) I was sure that I would never see these precious children of my heart again once they ran out the door into the summer sunlight (or rain! We live in Michigan, where the weather is never guaranteed.). My teaching friend, Joanie, always told me not to cry because, "They're making more. And when they are ready, they'll send them!" But what about this group? What about these kids who have become a kind of family with me this year? 

The good news is that so many of them have come back as adults as our lives have crossed once more, whether in real life or on social media. Hearing them say to their own children that I was their third or fourth or fifth grade teacher fills my heart. Surprisingly, more than a few have remembered and reminded me of the "Super Summer Kit" I once sent them out the door with on that last and bittersweet day of our year or years together. (Lots of looping years!)

What was the Super Summer Kit? It was simply a large ziplock bag or white 8 1/2 x 11 envelope filled with an activity calendar, a list of books "Recommended in Rainbow City" by other students, a goodbye letter from me filled with memories of our year together, and hopes I held for them as they grew up and away, fun writing suggestions like nature observations and different ways to make fun books and journals, a list of fun local day trips and summer field trips, and a summer bucket list brainstorming activity called "I Would if I Could". Kids used these throughout the summer with no future deadlines or pressure. Some even took them to camp for some downtime suggestions to share with bunkmates. I made a colorful and personalized cover page for each one, and loved having this unique gift to greet them on the last day of school as important as the backpack bags I greeted them with on the first day!

Since I have now have evidence that so many are hugely successful adults, and since those who looped with me or returned to a classroom of a teaching friend that I could check in with came back refreshed and even smarter, I have to conclude that the Super Summer Kit was enough. The thick worksheet books that parents used to clamor for at our local Borders Book Shop every May and June seemed daunting and uninteresting to me. What kid wants an assignment to complete every day all summer long, in  the interest of "keeping skills sharp"? Kids need their vacation and down time just as much as we adults do to refresh, recharge, and renew our interest in learning. I always found that the activities that I selected for that kit (most found right here in this bundle) were a "just right" approach to summer learning.

So, if you are lamenting the end of the school year, even while looking forward to your own summer plans, and want to send your babies off with a fun and leaning filled kit for their summer, I hope you'll check out these summer resources from Rainbow City Learning for a happy slide through summer and into the next school year. And don't worry, they're still making more! (Love and kisses to Joanie, now in Heaven.)

Welcoming the Summer Slide

For more ideas as you slide into summer, please check out the fabulous bloggers of Teacher Talk! 

If you would also like to be a part of Teacher Talk, we are a group of teacher bloggers who share posts
that are heavy on the ideas with just a little selling of our educational materials at    TeachersPayTeachers.com.  For more information about joining The Best of Teacher Entrepreneurs Marketing Cooperative, go to https://bit.ly/3o7D1Dv.  Feel free to email me at retta.london@gmail.com if you have any questions. 

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Read Aloud Magic

The Magic of Reading

 Ready to add some magic to your read-aloud? Reading plus gifts. What could be better? This post is a followup reveal to something that I teased in my last post! Who loves reading? Well, almost everyone. Who loves gifts? EVERYONE!!! By adding class gifts to your read-aloud, you can offer your students a magic portal to the world inside the book, as well as encouraging them to love reading just a little more than they already do. 

It all started on Mother's Day several years ago. My daughter gifted me a subscription to a book box club that would send a new book to me each month, along with four gifts that are mentioned in the book. As I read the book, I would reach a page with a sticky note that said, "Open Your Gift!" The gift, wrapped with a label showing the corresponding page number, was always a perfect way to hold a piece of that book in my hands. Example, in that first book, a "flower child" of the seventies approached the main character. She was wearing huge hoop earrings with fringes and a scarf in her hair. Inside the gift for that page was THOSE earrings and THAT scarf! Love, love, love! Right? In another book, the main character stepped out of her usual personality and stepped up to try karaoke. My gift for reading to that page? A karaoke microphone! The microphone was also rose gold - definitely speaking to my very soul! 

Sweetheart number six in my family has seen my book boxes in process and some of the gifts. She asked for a book box of her own for her recent seventh birthday, and I created two of them for her! She loved her  gifts! Clementine by Sara Pennypacker is one of the books that I gave to our sweetheart. As I've also used this in the past as a read-aloud for third graders, it occurred to me that this open-your-gift magic could also be done as a read-aloud experience in the classroom. 

Once Upon a Birthday Book Box

Yes, of course there was glitter on each sticky. Have we met?

I'm sharing here ideas for two read-aloud books that you could try this with. The first is recommended for grades 2-4 and the second would work with grades 4-6. The second one is my all-time personal favorite for an upper elementary read-aloud. I'm listing individual gift ideas, and then classroom "moments" (gifts suitable for a group). This idea would also work in small book club groups in your classroom. A great followup would be to ask students to select four stopping pages and four corresponding gifts for the next book they read. 

I hope you and your students will enjoy stepping through the portals into the story of your next read-aloud! I would love to hear from you in the comments below after you try this! Email me if you'd rather share your results that way!


Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Page 18: "grabbed the box of markers from where my mom had hidden them"

individual gift: new permanent or paint markers

class moment: new markers added to community boxes, or an art break to paint a "flaming sunset".

Page 83: "The following students are excused from recess so they can catch up on their journal writing"

individual gift: new fun journal

class moment: extra time to add art, stickers, and other embellishments to journal entries, or time to share the reading of journal entries in small groups

Page 114-115: "Because I am so good at paying attention, I know all the things Margaret likes. So I ran around the apartment gathering them up."

individual gift: red Barbie shoes, a blue feather, or M&Ms

class moment: Stop and talk about collections that each student personally has. Could also plan a collection display as part of the celebration for completing the book.

Page 130-131: 

individual gift: stuffed kitten

class moment: cupcake decorating party - adding frosting, sprinkles, etc. Alternative: design and draw cakes that celebrate events other than birthdays


A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

Page 20-21: "...he would hand me a velvet box, and in it would be a diamond tiara..."

individual gift: tiara

"And the second thing is that she likes ginger ale..."

class moment: ginger ale tasting (Compare Vernor's to Canada Dry, Schwepp's etc.) 

Page 43: "And she gets socks."  

individual gift: unusual socks

class moment: wear (or draw) your favorite socks to class. Have a "wear your socks" day in class.

Page 76 -77: "So what's it going to be?" asks Mabelline Person. 

                     "'Forever in Blue Jeans', by Neil Diamond," I say.

individual gift: USB Flash drive with the five songs mentioned on page 76; doll-sized blue jeans 

class moment: dance break with the five songs mentioned above, vote for class favorite

Page 116: "My cake is beautiful."  "'It's perfect," I tell him." "'It's a crooked kind of perfect,' I say."

individual gift: cake mix, frosting mix, cake decorating accessories

class moment: design the perfect birthday cake for you (start with an art activity, but maybe choose one to     actually create and bring in to share at a later time. 

Page 184: "'Wouldn't that be funny if everybody wore shirts with true stuff on them?' Mona laughs."

individual gift: white t-shirt and fabric markers

class moment: design a t-shirt with "true stuff" about you 

For a complete unit on A Crooked Kind of Perfect, click here:

Reading Unit for Upper Elementary

For more Book Club ideas from Rainbow City Learning, click here!

If I can do anything else to help make your job easier,  please let me know in the comments below! If I use your idea for a new blog post, you will win a TpT $10 gift card. If I create a new resource for Rainbow City Learning based on your idea, you will win a free copy of that resource to use in your classroom! (Note: all comments are reviewed before appearing on my blog. It may take a few hours for your comment to appear! Thanks for your patience!)



For more thoughts on teaching as we head into the homestretch of the teaching year, don't miss these posts by our awesome members of Teacher Talk!  

If you would also like to be a part of Teacher Talk, we are a group of teacher bloggers who share posts
that are heavy on the ideas with just a little selling of our educational materials at    TeachersPayTeachers.com.  For more information about joining The Best of Teacher Entrepreneurs Marketing Cooperative, go to https://bit.ly/3o7D1Dv.  Feel free to email me at retta.london@gmail.com if you have any questions. 



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Starting With a Scribble


Sweetheart #6 has a birthday this month, and she's made a special request. Filling that request has led me down the rabbit hole of TPT creation, and it's not ready yet. I promise that you will love it, and I hope that you will check back here for an announcement when it is ready! (Better yet, make sure that you are on my mailing list. It will definitely be announced there!) Hint: It will really raise the bar on your read-aloud practice. Okay, enough - I can't keep a secret. Need to stop writing about it!

Since I can't write about what I've actually spent hours this week working on, I decided to check out the National Day Calendar and discovered that our sweetheart's birthday is also National Scribble Day! I love it!!!

Here's the link if you'd like to check it out. Watch the embedded video for some bulletin board ideas! There is a totally precious book that goes with this special celebration, and I have already ordered one as a bonus birthday gift (along with some crayons and paper so we can start scribbling immediately). 

Starting With a Scribble Rainbow City Learning

Speaking of scribbling...

And speaking of scribbling, Tyler Henry has a new show on Netflix. I had heard of him, but never had seen any of his tv work. Last night, while scrolling through Netflix to find something that hubby and I could watch together, his new series popped up. As only one of us is interested in psychic mediums in the least, I found myself alone with the remote. If you have never heard of Tyler Henry, he is quite an accomplished psychic medium and previously worked with many Hollywood stars.

What I found most compelling about Tyler's practice is the way he constantly scribbles while he is doing a reading. He carries a notebook and it is filled with page after page of what looks like aimless scribbling with a black ballpoint pen. Here are some examples of his scribbling, and I LOVE how they are framed as art! This picture is courtesy of Netflix, where you can binge his new show!

Tyler Henry with HIs Scribbles Rainbow City Learning

When questioned about his scribbling during readings, Tyler shares that he has done this since he was a student, and that the repetitiveness of scribbling frees his mind to receive messages. As my teacher brain kicked in, I could really see the usefulness of this as a tool for studying, or for listening to a lesson. I've always encouraged students to draw and doodle in their journal while writing daily entries, taking notes, or revisiting a notebook or journal entry. But aimless, seemingly mindless scribbling? Never occurred to me. Now, I want to dive back into someone's classroom and try this! I also see this as a great tool for anyone of any age for meditation and relaxation. A cup of black ballpoints and some paper could be a great addition to our calm down corners!

Please, please, please come back and comment below if you add scribbling to either your classroom or personal practices, and tell me how it's working for you! I plan to try this myself and will come back to edit this post when I have some results!

Calm Down Corner
If you are looking for other resources to use in your Calm Down Corner, I hope you'll check out what Rainbow City Learning has to offer! Click here for 40 ideas, or just click below for these popular posters!



Wishing you peace and calm in the days ahead, and inspiration to start with a scribble!



If I can do anything else to help make your job easier this year, please let me know in the comments below! If I use your idea for a new blog post, you will win a TpT $10 gift card. If I create a new resource for Rainbow City Learning based on your idea, you will win a free copy of that resource to use in your classroom! (Note: all comments are reviewed before appearing on my blog. It may take a few hours for your comment to appear! Thanks for your patience!)

For more thoughts on teaching as we head into Spring, don't miss these posts by our awesome members of Teacher Talk!  

If you would also like to be a part of Teacher Talk, we are a group of teacher bloggers who share posts
that are heavy on the ideas with just a little selling of our educational materials at    TeachersPayTeachers.com.  For more information about joining The Best of Teacher Entrepreneurs Marketing Cooperative, go to https://bit.ly/3o7D1Dv.  Feel free to email me at retta.london@gmail.com if you have any questions. 
                        
    

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Celebrate Reading

How do you celebrate reading?

"It's always something." (Gilda Radner as Roseanne Rosannadanna) Every day that we show up at school, ready to learn, is a cause for celebration. "...and everywhere was a song and a celebration." (Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. Woodstock, baby.) Seriously, teachers, we can find something to celebrate in class every single day. The biggest celebration, of course, is when the imaginary light bulbs flash with new learning, with a newly converted reader for life, budding author, artist, mathematician, researcher, or maker. As teachers, we are part of those amazing moments all year long. And yet, if we seek other celebrations to bring a learning theme to our students, the calendar is filled with them. Here's a year-long resource for an author birthday focus every month.
                
Read Across America Day was originally conceived to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss. You might have been wearing out your "Cat in the Hat" striped chapeau for all the Marches for as long as you've been teaching. Maybe your school focuses on Dr. Seuss, or maybe you just enjoy that celebration in your classroom. Maybe your own teacher tied a red bow around her neck every March, and the memories are filled with warm fuzzies. Or...maybe...you are ready for a new idea?

Did you know that Leo Dillon's birthday is March 2 also?  With his wife, Diane, Leo Dillon was the author/illustrator of forty beloved children's books. Many of the books will bring the concepts of diversity and world peace into your classroom. What a beautiful segue from February is Black History Month! Why not kick off March is Reading Month this year with a fresh focus?

A favorite Dillon book of mine is If Kids Ran the World. My students were so fortunate to have the chance to meet this gentle and lovely couple before Leo's death in 2012, when they visited our school.  The mentoring for our future authors and illustrators was off the charts! If Kids Ran the World was the book they were working on at the time of Leo's passing.


In addition to the beautiful illustrations and words showing how the world would be a better place if we all cared  for others in the way these children do, this book effortlessly becomes a mentor text. Click below to learn more:



Some other authors whose work will make for great sharing and inspiration any time of the year: Patricia Polacco, Eve Bunting, and Jacqueline Woodson. These are a few of my favorites, and my students have enjoyed many lessons for reading and writing led off by the works of these writers. 

Try The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco to see how the author's own mother was encouraged to love reading!
Share a read-aloud of The Wretched Stone by Chris Van Alsburg to prompt a discussion of all the things we might enjoy if we give up a little screen time. 


Of course, no month-long celebration is complete without a few official school-wide or grade-wide or even class-wide activities. Some of my favorites:

Hold a Read-In
In no way should this be confused with a clean your desk, grade papers, and enter data day. Wipe that thought from your mind. It's tempting for sure, but a read-in day where you participate right along with the kids is a golden opportunity to encourage a lifelong love of reading (like yours!). Only you can be the role model for that in your classroom. Sleeping bags, blankies, jammies, and pillows optional! My kids always liked making little fort areas under the desks for uninterrupted reading bliss!

Who doesn't love a Parade?
Ask your students to bring in their Radio Flyer or Little Tykes wagons to use as float carriers for a Parade of Books! (Think Macy's Thanksgiving or Disney any day, or The Rose Bowl Parade, but with books!)  Kids work in teams to create a float display (think giant diorama!) of a book. The team members dress as some of the characters as they accompany their float in a parade for school and community!

Spotlight on Books
Create a display with a fun place to leave comments/reviews about a book that the class shared as a class novel, book club choice, or read-aloud. Place a book cover in the center of the display, and kids write comments all around. Examples of fun places to leave comments: black construction paper with colored chalks, small white boards with wipe-off markers, plexiglass with window markers, fabric with glitter pens. I know your kids can  help you think of more! 

Recommended in Rainbow City
That's what we called ours, anyway! Start a weekly or monthly newsletter or blog section where kids can review books they have read and loved. It's a great resource for your students to clip and keep on hand for when they are browsing for new books to read. 

Book Trailers
Use your technology (iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, or your favorite movie creator) to have your students create exciting trailers to "advertise" their favorite books. So many resources, directions, and examples of book trailers for kids in this post. (Just click on the director below!)


I loved sharing ideas for March is Reading Month with my podcasting friends, Tracy, Deann, and Kathie. Tune in to "We Teach So Hard" Episode 28 to hear what we came up with!

Happy, happy March! Hope you get to read something you love this month, too!

If I can do anything else to help make your job easier this year, please let me know in the comments below! If I use your idea for a new blog post, you will win a TpT $10 gift card. If I create a new resource for Rainbow City Learning based on your idea, you will win a free copy of that resource to use in your classroom! (Note: all comments are reviewed before appearing on my blog. It may take a few hours for your comment to appear! Thanks for your patience!)











For more thoughts on teaching in March, don't miss these posts by our awesome members of Teacher Talk!  

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What's Saving Your Life Right Now?


What a great idea for the middle of winter! On February 2, we will be at the midway point of winter, and The modern Mrs. Darcy (a favorite blogger of mine!) has a tradition each year of writing down all the books and other things that are saving her life right now. It's easy to make a giant list of all the things that are absolutely killing us in the middle of a long and gray winter, but the idea of turning those thoughts from negative to positive is intoxicating to me right now! 

Here's my list of books that are currently saving my life:

Wintering by Katherine May uses examples from nature, history, and legends to show how retreat and relaxation can really get us through difficult times. Winter can be hard. It is especially hard during these pandemic times. Reading this book let me know that it's very ok to slow down, cuddle up under a soft quilt, and read. Even as a busy teacher, you don't have to be constantly involved in preparation, planning, doing, and assessing. It's ok to take some quiet time for yourself.

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult is a tale born of the isolation that the author experienced during the pandemic, as so many of us have experienced. Without giving too much away, this book has encouraged me to fall asleep more easily at night, looking forward to dreams. Since finishing this one, I do sleep better  even if it takes an extra sweater and two pairs of socks! I also find it interesting to remember my dreams. 

The Stranger in the Lifeboat by Mitch Albom has renewed my spiritual faith. It has also caused me to reread his earlier book, The First Phone Call From Heaven. With so many now missing from my life, the idea of such an occurrence brings me joy and gives me hope that someday we will meet again.

Books for kids that I love to share, and that save my life when I do so:

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles


This is an old favorite from my personal and class bookshelves. I've always asked for parent permission first because the main character, Comfort Snowberger, lives in her family's funeral home and has attended 247 funerals. I always thought that might be considered too intense or scary for some kids, but I have never had a parent say that their child could not participate.

Even the first line resonates, " I come from a family with a lot of dead people." Don't we all?
Comfort says it so beautifully herself:
"...death is hard. Death is sad. But death is part of life. When someone you know dies, it's your job to keep on living.
So...we did. We adjusted. We did what we always do when death comes calling:
    We gathered together.
    We started cooking.
    We called the relatives.
    We called our friends.
    We did not have to call the funeral home. We are the funeral home.
    I wrote the obituary."

And Comfort eventually takes over writing the obituaries for her local newspaper. She call them "Life Notices" rather than "Death Notices". She writes the most unique obituaries you will ever read, truly celebrating the life of each person. Comfort teaches each of us to find gratitude in the sweet, funny, and even outrageous events that make up a life. I met Comfort as a reader in my 50s, and she changed so much about my outlook on life. I like to think that she has done that for many of my students too!

Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney

More than a century ago, on a fictional farm in Sassafras Springs, Missouri, Eben McAllister has been fascinated by reading about The Seven Wonders of the World in school. He wants to take his first trip away from his "boring" home to visit relatives in Colorado. Eben's dad challenges him to find seven wonders right at home in Sassafras Springs that can rival the real Seven Wonders. Eben sets off on a journey of knocking on neighbors' doors to discover the origin stories about some ordinary seeming items. He hears magical tales about a doll that saved a life, a musical saw, an ordinary table, and an incredible wonder at the end that I won't spoil for you!

As Eben says:
"Sometimes extraordinary things begin in ordinary places. A fancy-dancy butterfly starts out in a plain little cocoon. A great big apple tree grows from a tiny speck of a seed. And the wonders started right on our own front porch on a hot summer night I would have forgotten on the spot if it hadn't been for what got started then and kept on going."
Once you start looking for the beauty in and finding gratitude in ordinary things, it's hard to stop. Eben sets a great example for all of us.

This book has held a special place in my heart for so many years. It was a favorite read-aloud for my students. We all loved how each chapter was its own little story. I based my writing lessons on it for a unit on memoirs. Each student created a "Wonder of Farmington Hills" story. (The location of our school.) Every story was a touching closer look at something that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.  One particular story still in my heart was the story about a rose that blooms each summer in one family's yard on the anniversary of the death of a favorite uncle who left them at a young age. Another was the story of how the Rainbow City (my classroom name - but you knew that, right?) Rocking Chair came to be. It was a special chair, painted and repainted every year by each new class, but of course the story of how it came to be was nothing like the real one!

We sent our collection of "The Wonders of Farmington Hills" to Betty Birney and she loved it! She sent us a beautiful letter to share with families and our school community as a celebration of our writing!

The best lesson here though, is the same as above - finding beauty and feeling gratitude when looking at simple everyday things. "Fancy-Dancy butterfly". I still love that!

What saves my life as I move through the world:

Strolling past my grandchildren's home in our neighborhood (when it's not too cold) and seeing that they are home makes my heart so happy! As I approach the door and hear our two littlest sweethearts literally shreik, "GRANDMA'S HERE!!!!!" saves my life for sure every time!

I have some grandchildren who live around the corner, and some who live on the other side of the world. Zoom and FaceTime have saved my life by allowing me to have long visits with each of the sweethearts that I've been unable to see in person since 2019. 

As I move through the snowy days in Michigan, I've been fortunate for the past few years since retirement to get away to warmer places for a little while. Although I discover new things about my Michigan neighborhood every time I go for a walk, warm weather walks such as a recent one in Venice, Florida, are definitely life saving! Although I have taken this walk last year and the year before, this time I noticed the most beautiful and colorful sculptures of seahorses and mermaids scattered throughout the downtown area. They made my walk even more of a dream! The photos and memories should keep me going throughout the second half of this snowy winter!


What saves your life? I would love to hear about it all in the comments below!

To save your teacher life and make your work easier in the days ahead, check out all the new resources at Rainbow City Learning!


For the original post, go to The Modern Mrs. Darcy's post!